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Powering up a city in ruins: ALP crew helps Wadena recover from tornado

Toppled tower lines and damaged houses were left in the wake of the Wadena tornado. By Tuesday night, utility crews had re-established all power to the town that could be restored.1 / 3
Linemen crews from communities across the state worked to repair electrical lines in Wadena this past week.2 / 3
The tornado which swept through Wadena on June 17 caused severe structural damage to Wadena High School.3 / 3

When the crew from Alexandria Light and Power (ALP) saw the desolation in Wadena with their own eyes, they were left with a loss for words, and a lot of work to do.

Just one day after a tornado devastated the town, ALP snapped into action to get the town up and running again. Its crew was one of many municipal utilities from communities across the state that joined forces in the recovery effort.

The Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association called for mutual aid after the natural disaster. Crews from Moorhead, Willmar, Sauk Centre, Elk River, Detroit Lakes, Melrose and many other communities answered the call.

The ALP crew, which included at different times, Mike McGrane, Larry Ziegler, Bob Steidl, Travis Weisensel, Ron Goracke and Josh Waldorf, worked from Friday morning through Tuesday night making repairs.

"I thought about it all four days and since, and I still can't come up with the words - it really is indescribable," Weisensel said. "Pictures, television, and descriptions don't do it justice when you are in that affected area. You are staring at a situation that looks insurmountable, at a town that looks like it isn't going to come back."

This overwhelming feeling soon turned to hope as the recovery process made steady progress. By Tuesday night, they had effectively restored all the power that could be restored in the town.

"I really didn't think we would have power restored so soon, especially after seeing the mess from up in the bucket," noted McGrane. "But everything was so well organized and coordinated. Everyone just worked together."

"It's the best of human nature, for groups to come together and efficiently interact," added Weisensel.

At any one time, more than 40 linemen from various communities were working in conjunction on power lines throughout the town.

"We started toward the outside of the damage, which wasn't so bad," said Ziegler. "But as we moved toward the center, everything was completely gone."

Many of the sights the men saw during their work were surreal: The crumpled remains of a school bus, which was thrown more than 100 yards during the tornado, leaving no drag marks. The roof of the hockey rink, wrapped around the school five blocks away. Dishes and paper towels unscathed inside kitchen cupboards, visible through a kitchen wall ripped open.

Even amidst such catastrophe, the citizens of Wadena were very appreciative of the help.

"Whenever we restored power in a neighborhood, you could hear people hoot and holler," said Steidl. "They were more than willing to give us drinks of water. Very friendly."

This project had added meaning for three of the linemen. McGrane, Steidl and Ziegler all received their training at Northwest Technical College in Wadena.

"To go back to the community that gave us this skill - it was a nice payback," said Steidl. "Being taught our profession, and then using it where we were taught it."

The worst of tragedies often bring about newfound compassion and camaraderie. The ALP crew found that the multi-community recovery effort in Wadena is a testament to how the human spirit can overcome.

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